Touted as a vital project on the San Antonio River Walk, the Briscoe Western Art Museum is three years behind schedule and has gone through three executive directors. One resigned in frustration after only eight months.
Created by John_Tedesco on Aug 23, 2011
Last updated: 09/18/11 at 03:21 PM
Tags: Briscoe Western Art Museum Janey San Antonio River Walk Bexar County Venue Tax Jack Guenther Mark Watson
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“At this point in the project, we have raised a lot of money,” museum board member Tracy Wolff said. “We have pretty much proven ourselves. We are going to do this. We are standing in the buildings. We have raised $25 million.”
This document from the museum says that as of July 2011, construction is 70 percent complete.
The grand opening is scheduled for 2013 -- four years after the original opening date.
"Dolph Briscoe Jr., the first governor from Southwest Texas and the man who guided the state during its oil and gas boom years, died Sunday at the family home in Uvalde. He was 87."
Several changes to the design of the pavilion delayed the project. It went from two stories to three, and it went from being able to seat 300 people to 500 people.
The settlement in the lawsuit filed against the museum by former general contractor Thos. S. Byrne Ltd. was confidential. The firm had been seeking more than $586,000.
Months after the museum was originally supposed to open, art patrons held a groundbreaking for the new pavilion. The cost for the project had grown from $18 million to $30 million.
Rita Stich, the administrative assistant of museum board member Mark Watson, replaced outgoing Executive Director Jack Downey, who had resigned in frustration.
Thos. S. Byrne Ltd. files a lawsuit alleging the museum violated its contract by dismissing the firm.
The San Antonio Water System owned a pump station near the museum, and it was hurrying to finish renovations to clear the way for the museum's new pavilion. But the effort was wasted -- the museum was behind schedule, and no one was communicating with SAWS.
The museum announced the hiring of Jack Downey, who had led the nonprofit Children's Shelter in San Antonio for nearly 15 years. He was the third executive director to work at the museum. Eight months later, Downey resigned in frustration.
Letter from architect Kim Monroe describes delays at the museum.
Voters approved a $415 million in funding from venue taxes for various projects. The Briscoe Western Art Museum received a $4 million chunk of the venue tax pie.
Renovations were supposed to cost $18 million and the museum was supposed to open in summer 2009. That didn't happen. From the Express-News archives: "A downtown building designed for books, converted into a treasury of circus artifacts and then vacated and left as a storage building in 2001 is well into its latest transformation: Western art museum. "The exterior renovation of the old Hertzberg Circus Museum building at the corner of Market and North Presa streets is nearing completion. Soon, preliminary work will start on the construction of a contemporary two-story pavilion, which will connect with the original Hertzberg building, as well as a sculpture garden along the San Antonio River. "In the summer of 2009, the buildings will reopen to the public as the Dolph and Janey Briscoe Western Art Museum, named after the benefactors who donated $4 million to the project."
The museum dismissed its general contractor. The move lead to a lawsuit filed in 2009.
The museum board selects construction firm Thos. S. Byrne Ltd. of Fort Worth to renovate the museum. But the museum's leadership "changed the design of the building several times, causing Byrne and the design team to start over."
The National Western Art Foundation issues a request for proposal to several construction firms, including Thos. S. Byrne Ltd., of Fort Worth.
From the Express-News Archives: Editor's Note: Associate Editorial Page Editor Robert Seltzer spoke recently with Mark Watson, owner of the Diamond K Ranch and board president of the National Western Art Foundation, who is part of an ambitious effort to convert the old Hertzberg Circus Museum building into a museum dedicated to the art and history of the American West. Q: Why is a Western art museum necessary in this area? A: You have to start with your mission. And our mission, like that of any museum, is education. You can find out what makes San Antonio San Antonio if you dig for it. I think this will be a gathering point for people to do that. People look at the big buildings and the business activity, but very few people know the vaqueros came here. Before there was a Dodge City, there was a San Antonio. This is a story that needs to be told. Q: The River Walk is already rated among the top tourist attractions in the state. How will the facility enhance the appeal? A: The River Walk, of course, is used principally by tourists. The tourists come to San Antonio, and they say, "OK, where's the West?" Well, the West will be here. We'll have a sculpture garden, and we'll have a staff that will give people the opportunity to review the other cultural attractions in town -- other museums, the Witte, the McNay. People will have a much better opportunity to learn about the Western flavor of the town if they go to all the museums. Q: Tell us about the former Hertzberg Circus Museum building. A: What a location. I think it's the finest in town. It's very difficult to find a site that's so accessible to people. This is near some of the biggest hotels in town, including the Hilton and the Hyatt. We plan to build an indoor pavilion that will seat about 500 people, so we expect quite a lot of activity. Q: Is there a prejudice that simply because a painter is a 'Western' artist, his creations cannot match the significance of, say, a Picasso? A: Let me say that if there is a prejudice, people should consider Howard Terpning. In the last three months, he sold a painting for $1.3 million. There is hardly any type of art that is rising faster in price and value than Western art. This is not art painted by someone sitting out by the river with an easel. Q: How will you make the experience of visiting the museum fun as well as educational? A: That's really important to us. We're working with museum design firms, and we will have visual presentations that will be interactive with the people watching it. I can see a gallery where children will sit in saddles and watch Western movies and feel as if they're part of it. We think fun is an important part of the experience. Q: The project, including the renovation of the old Hertzberg building, represents a unique blend of the public and private. How much private funding do you need? And what is your target date for reaching your goal? A: We have commitments from the city and county, but we need $18 million in private money. The lead gift was $4 million gift from Gov. Dolph Briscoe. It's a challenge. I can't talk about any other gifts right now, but I think we'll get that done. We have a Who's Who of people helping us -- Red McCombs, John Montford, Nelson Wolff. We have the best people you can imagine on our board. firstname.lastname@example.org --Age: 71 --Career: Graduate of Central Catholic High School and Notre Dame University; founded insurance company Titan Holdings Inc. before fulfilling his dream of owning a ranch, the Diamond K; board president of the National Western Art Foundation --Favorite Western movie: 'High Noon' --How to help: Call (210) 832-3206 or e-mail www.briscoemuseum.org A conversation with Mark Watson
The donation kicked off an $18 million fundraising campaign for the museum. It also gave the museum a name: the Briscoe Western Art Museum.
From the Express-News archives: "It's being described as the perfect marriage -- a concept for a world-class heritage arts museum without a home and a historic, vacant building in downtown San Antonio without a present purpose. A lease agreement approved by the City Council on Thursday would solidify that relationship by giving a home to the National Western Art Foundation museum in the former Hertzberg Circus Museum building at Market and Presa streets. Under the 25-year agreement, the city would be responsible only for a portion of the museum -- a 5,000-square-foot History Center Portal that would give residents and tourists a virtual look into San Antonio's beginnings through library archives. The old Circus Museum, which previously housed the city's main library, would be turned into a western art museum showcasing cowboys, cowgirls, Native Americans and vaqueros that make up part of the rich history of South Texas. "This is the culmination, finally, of a project we have been working on for a very long time," Councilman Roger O. Flores said. "We have a building with a strong cultural heritage and a museum that needed a home. It's absolutely a win-win for everyone." The foundation would invest $16 million in private funds to renovate the building and add amenities and improvements on the adjacent property, Library Director Ramiro Salazar said. The foundation also would pay for costs associated with operation and maintenance, utilities, taxes and insurance. Using money from 2003 bond proceeds, the city would invest $500,000 to stabilize the building and provide another $1.6 million in one-time funds to finish out and furnish the history center, Salazar said. It would cost the city an estimated $144,000 to staff and operate the portal. The city would release the building to the foundation once the planning phase has been completed, which must be done by the end of May 2008, Salazar said. Completing the planning phase includes finishing the fundraising, approval of the plans by the City Council and issuing all permits. From there, the building phase would take three years, Salazar said. Plans also call for a patio and pavilion using the adjacent park property owned by the San Antonio Water System. The space would be rented for private parties, rallies, weddings or receptions, said Darrell Beauchamp, executive director of the foundation. A seated dining area on the River Walk could become another dining destination, Beauchamp said, as he envisions finding a vendor to permanently run a restaurant at the location. "People will be able to access all of the wonderful archives of the city," said Jane Macon, a member of the foundation's board. "It will give all citizens, especially students, an opportunity to access the history online." Beauchamp said the foundation has started its fundraising campaign, which would get in full swing with council's approval of the lease agreement. "It looks like we have some substantial gifts promised, but we're not ready to announce those yet," he said. "In two to three weeks we should be making some announcements." Flores said along with the Museo Alameda in Market Square, the western museum would help people realize the cultural significance of the city and how that can contribute to tourism. "This, I think, is going to be a fine addition," Flores said. "I know a lot of folks appreciate the fact that we are a diverse city. We are just that, multicultural, and we need to be able to showcase that."
According to the museum's tax records, Director Michael Duty left the job in 2005. In an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, Duty said he left for family reasons.
A story in the San Antonio Express-News revealed that the old Hertzberg museum, a historic structure on the River Walk that once housed a circus museum, was being eyed for western art: "A group of local movers and shakers is working to establish a museum of Western art and artifacts, hoping to enrich the area's cultural tapestry by highlighting more of its history. "A still-forming board of directors already includes a roster of the city's elite, from Fully Clingman, past president of H.E. Butt Grocery Co., to advertising executive Lionel Sosa to Ricardo Romo, president of the University of Texas at San Antonio. "While still early in the planning process, a small staff for the National Western Art Foundation is already in place and working to unveil the as yet unnamed museum next month. ... "Board member Mark Watson, the founder of Titan Holdings Inc., said most tourists learn only about the history of Texas' colonial times. "'After you see the Alamo, what is there?' he asked. 'The Alamo is wonderful, but it doesn't tell the whole story of the heritage of South Texas.' "About half of the board and the entire two-member staff of the National Western Art Foundation came from a Kerrville institution that used to be called the Cowboy Artists of America Museum. When some members of the Kerrville institution split and came to San Antonio to start a similar facility, the one-time colleagues sued each other. "Officials with the Kerrville attraction, now known as the Museum of Western Art, mediated a settlement with the National Western Art Foundation leadership, according to Duty, who wouldn't disclose many of the details. "With the contentious split behind them, Duty said foundation officials are working on the future and have issued invitations for an informational meeting to be held Sept. 29 at the Argyle. A capital campaign is planned. The board currently has seven members. In addition to Clingman, Romo, Sosa and Watson, it includes Jack Guenther Sr., a finance manager, John Montford, a senior vice president of SBC Communications Inc., and its chairman, Tom Morgan, a retired SBC executive."
Guenther and Watson got the idea for a western art museum in San Antonio when they served as board members at an art museum in Kerrville. Their plans created a rift in Kerrville that led to a lawsuit.
Two of the directors who launched the nonprofit organization still remain: Tax attorney Jack Guenther, and rancher Mark Watson.
Their no-nonsense management style and passion for the art museum has been hailed -- and criticized.